“Lucky!”: Official Bernie Ecclestone documentary reviewed

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Last year ex-Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone earned a public rebuke from the series he once ran after making an unconscionable defence of Russian president Vladimir Putin following his invasion of Ukraine.

Ecclestone eventually walked back those comments, but he did not do the same regarding the support he also expressed for his former driver Nelson Piquet who had used a racial slur while discussing Lewis Hamilton. The seven-times world champion responded by stating “old voices” such as theirs should not be given publicity.

For those eager to understand the world’s most popular form of motorsport, the 92-year-old former driver, team boss and architect of F1’s commercial operation now run by Liberty Media is a uniquely significant but also controversial figure. Last year’s row was not the first time his pubic statements have attracted criticism, whether for likening women to domestic appliances, criticising democracy or praising Adolf Hitler (the latter another remark he later backtracked over).

So while Discovery+ snapped up the rights to Lucky!, an eight-part documentary covering Ecclestone’s seven decades in F1, it appears there was some sensitivity over being identified too closely with him. Each 45-minute (plus adverts) instalment therefore concludes with a disclaimer stating his views are his own and no one else’s.

Bernie Ecclestone, Interlagos, 2022
Interview: Why the creator of ‘Senna’ calls his new Ecclestone series ‘much more challenging’
It’s clear plenty of F1 fans feels they have heard enough from Ecclestone over the years. For them the prospect of six hours in his company will hold little appeal. All the more so given he is placed front-and-centre in Lucky!, appearing full frame in the interviews which make up the backbone of the feature.

This approach marks an obvious point of difference to the most famous work of Lucky!’s creator Manish Pandey, whose celebrated 2010 film Senna told its story entirely through voiceovers and thereby avoided the ‘talking heads’ trope familiar of so many documentaries. Having had access to Ecclestone for over eight weeks, filming him during Covid-19 lockdowns, Pandey chose to show him confronting the camera head-on.

This striking device is, thankfully, not over-used. What makes Lucky! essential viewing is the range and quality of material Pandey and his team have assembled from a broad range of archives to tell their tale. It’s in this respect that the series is most reminiscent of Senna, and there is plenty of rare footage in here dedicated F1 fans will not want to miss out on seeing.

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Ecclestone’s progress from manager of drivers to overseer of the sport’s commercial operation forms the bulk of the narrative. Clearly this presents more of a challenge for the film makers when the story focuses on off-track rather than on-track matters. In places animations have been used to sketch in unseen scenes, but like the Ecclestone footage these are used sparingly.

Ecclestone gradually took over F1 while running Brabham
Where the programme makers have really done themselves proud is in assembling a broad collection of archive footage which goes far beyond what is contained in the substantial catalogue produced by Ecclestone’s FOM operation. Contemporary news and current affairs reports flesh out the details of the stories which Ecclestone tends to relate in simplistic terms.

There are some obscure gems of coverage here which I will try to avoid spoiling here. Past Ecclestone adversaries such as Patrick Duffeler appear. Those who enjoyed Senna will spot FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre popping up as a nemesis figure once more, grousing about the English killing Joan of Arc in his first appearance, and providing the series’ lighter moments with his aptitude for buffoonery.

In sharp contrast to this are the series’ regular poignant moments, an inevitable consequence of the fact so many of the drivers who raced in F1 during this period met untimely ends. Although the footage from several of the incidents is often shocking, they are handled with sensitivity.

Even with a six-hour running time (it’s advertised as eight, but that banks on 15 minutes of adverts per episode), covering 67 years of motor racing history in that time is no small feat. The story therefore hurries on in places to make room for the matters of most significance.

Inevitably some details are therefore covered so briefly you wonder why they were left in at all, particularly those which only seem to have a passing connection to the Ecclestone story. The shot of a very young Damon Hill rushing up to greet his father tugs at the heart-strings, but this sequence detailing Graham Hill’s unexpected death passes by very briefly.

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Another short section covers the controversy around the 1985 South African Grand Prix, the last held during the Apartheid era, long after other sports had left the country. Senna and Nigel Mansell state their misgivings about competing in the racially segregated country, but tellingly there is only the briefest of acknowledgements from Ecclestone that he stopped racing there, for unspecified reasons.

Scenes like this underline that Lucky! demands to be watched with a critical eye. As Pandey told RaceFans, this is very much Ecclestone’s version of events, and it’s down to the viewer to decide how much of it they take at face value.

But what is there is a fascinating, detailed, well-researched survey of seven decades of F1 history, as told by the man who orchestrated so much of it. While the condemnation Ecclestone’s statements have faced is justified, it would be unfortunate if they discouraged F1 fans from seeking out Lucky!.

‘Lucky!’ is available to watch in the UK on Discovery+

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 16 comments on ““Lucky!”: Official Bernie Ecclestone documentary reviewed”

    1. I’ve never understood cancel culture in that regard. For sure disagree with things you disagree with, but it can be very worthwhile to learn about how people you disagree with think. Very few people have the goal of wanting to make the world a worse place, so when they end up doing so, it’s almost certainly worth paying attention to how they got in that position to be able to.

      Either way, will be watching this, looking forward to it. How F1 ended up where it is has always been fascinating to me. Even if it is just Ecclestone’s version of those events.

      1. I’ve never understood cancel culture in that regard. For sure disagree with things you disagree with, but it can be very worthwhile to learn about how people you disagree with think.

        Couldnt agree more, and I am what others would refer to as a member of the “Wokerati” :)

        Looking forward to it!
        G

      2. @skipgamer Yeah, couldn’t agree with you more. But I think I’ll probably miss this though. What Pandey did with Senna I thought was fantastic, we were leaving Australia, had a party organised and someone let me know they had a copy of the film coming up and a private cinema, it was a couple of months before it came out and I could only view it the night before the flight. I organised to leave my leaving party for two hours to go watch a film, by myself, and I loved it. I saw stuff I’d never seen before, the pacing was great. The onboards….. the screams and howls.

        But Bernie? I don’t really care. I care about how we got here and the history of F1. But people sometimes people might say to me “Bernie was a bad man”. But I don’t know – if all of us were to weigh up the good and the bad, Bernie is an odd one.

        But I feel like Bernie has been saying and doing stuff all my life. I like that the article says “It’s Bernie’s version of events”. I’ve had plenty, thank you.

        The advantage of Senna over Bernie, is that Senna is a reliable narrator.

        1. Really ? The Senna Documentary was heavily biased and with lots of flaws. It was an interesting one, but you can’t say it was reliable, because Senna himself was very emotive and biased

    2. Does anyone know if this is on US Discovery+? Or is it available on any of the US streamers?

    3. I think that Bernie is a polarising issue; love him or hate him. Personally i have great affection for him, always worthy of a sound bite. The classic line to Brundell on the grid about we need to take sensible pills, Bernie’s reply of “Tell me where to get the pills.” The thing that I think most people don’t understand was where F1 was BEFORE Bernie took it on. Teams infighting, rules (well what rules), safety? and finally the nail in the coffin TV rights. There simply was a vacuum of who was negociating with TV companies on deals and sponsors wanted exposure. If the teams hated Bernie with an absolute passion they would have got rid of him at the very start. They didn’t because it became very convienient to let Bernie run the show. With hindsight without Bernie F1 would be in a very poor state prior to Liberty getting its (steadying) hands on the ship. If you love F1 all you need to know is Bernie helped build it, if not outright made it.

      1. I agree. And next to better social access I dont think Liberty has improved the sport at all. If anything they made it less serious and more of a circus and soap. Sportive wise, we have taken quite some steps back. In terms of integrity as well as Liberty seems even more revenue driven than Bernie.

    4. Love him or hate him, the sport wouldn’t be on the level it is today without him. And lets be honest, after the announcement of Las Vegas last year, are Liberty really that much different. Like The WHO said……. meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

      1. Spot on.

      2. Great comment. History happens. I still don’t like him.

    5. Utterly amazing documentary, as a fan of F1 for many years, to get a rich understanding of formula 1’s history and the stories which had unfolded throughout the years this has been brilliant to watch.

      Bernie, has clearly had a life of marmite but for me, love him to bits, always appreciated and chuckled at how straight he was when in front of the tv cameras and to understand him further by watching this has been a pleasure.

      Thank you Bernie and thank you to all the producers and staff who created this documentary.

      Long live formula 1

    6. Bernie is iconic in F1, he was there making history for decades, so any insight he can reveal will at least be interesting.

      1. I would be especially interested to hear insights about some of his madcap mafioso schemes and criminal interactions, but maybe that will be probably be covered in depth in part two, LoL :)

    7. Still waiting on the evidence that the 2014 Mercedes wasn’t legal Mr Ecclestone…
      Why wasn’t there an investigation? Shady stuff…

    8. I would have reserved the title of the book for the biography of Lewis.

      1. Well the title that has been reserved for the biography of Sir Lewis is “G.O.A.T.”

    Comments are closed.